Nurses at Ballina Hospital closed two beds and up to four treatment chairs on Monday night as they highlighted the dangers of having only one nurse on in emergency for the night shift.
‘There is also a treating doctor on but they can be elsewhere in the hospital treating patients,’ said Suzie Melchior the secretary of the NSW Nurses and Midwives (NSW NMA) Ballina branch.
The NSW NMA had alerted the Northern NSW Local Health District (NNSW LHD) executive of their concerns over the patient and staff safety but hadn’t heard back from them by Monday afternoon ‘so we closed two beds and removed up to four treatment chairs,’ said Ms Melchior.
‘We are only funded for nine beds so we put in extra beds and created the treatment chairs to help meet our National Emergency Access Target (NEAT) targets. We meet our 86 per cent and above NEAT targets,’ she said.
The team were requested to reopen the two beds they closed which they have done following an agreement between the union and the NNSW LHD executive, however, they will not be re-instating the treatment chairs. Northern NSW Local Health have committed to a review in a month to look at the situation said Ms Melchoir.
The increase in people using the emergency department and the fact they have sicker patients that stay longer in their beds has put increasing pressure on the Ballina emergency department.
‘We are only able to admit people who are low risk patients onto the general hospital wards at the Ballina hospital. All other patients need to be transported to other hospitals for treatment.
‘We have 17,000 plus people a year through the emergency department which is the same as Murwillumbah who have 12 beds and more staff. We punch way above our weight,’ she said.
MP backs hospital staff
The call for better staffing at the Ballina Hospital has been backed by local MP Tamara Smith who says the fact that ‘the single nurse on night shift is also required to undertake all non-clinical duties and can be pulled away from direct patient care to check on front door access, answer phones and book more patients raises concerns about patient safety and about safety and workloads for staff members at Ballina Hospital. It also raises questions about why regional hospitals are not being accorded the same staffing and resources as city hospitals.’
Ms Smith has called on the Health Minister to urgently fund more nurses on night shift at Ballina Hospital.
‘I have written to the Health Minister Brad Hazzard to urgently ensure there is more funding for an additional registered nurse on night shifts at Ballina Hospital and for a staffing review of the Emergency Department at the hospital,’ said Ms Smith.
Health department responds
Wayne Jones, chief executive, Northern NSW Local Health District ((NNSW LHD) have responded saying that the all their hospitals are staffed in accordance with the with the Public Health System Nurses’ and Midwives’ (State) Award.
‘We work closely with staff and the NSW Nurses and Midwives Association to ensure staffing levels meet patient needs and support staff to continue to provide excellent patient care,’ said Mr Jones.
‘NNSWLHD management will be reviewing the Emergency Department data and will meet with the NSW Nurses and Midwives Association to discuss the findings.
Mr Jones also highlighted that the NSW government has committed to a record boost of 5,000 nurses and midwives, which will include at least 402 new staff for Northern NSW LHD, including 282 nurses and midwives, 32 doctors, 38 allied health staff and 50 hospital support staff,’ he said.
However, there has been no clear time frame for the implementation of these polices set s far.
No staff ratios
‘If the Labor government had been elected we would have had nurse patient ratios in place but that didn’t happen,’ said Ms Melchoir.
‘I just don’t think the community knows they are not going to get the best care. The removal of the treatment chairs will increase the wait time at the Ballina emergency department.
‘The important thing is that the situation has been acknowledged. There has been an increase in the potential for near misses and actual events over the last four to five years. We don’t want an unsafe situation that could lead to a nurse loosing their job or a patient to loosing their life.’